Launching your own WebTV portal? Prepare Your Files First.

Before sitting down with a designer or developer, let’s consider your content and your audience. Do you have your video content in HD quality files, ready to go? Its recommended that you have every program – in its entirety – prepared to 1080p using the MP4 container, H.264 video codec and AAC audio codec. This will allow you to transcode (downgrade) the video to mobile and browser-based formats, other HD and HQ formats (720p, 480p) when needed.

Before inking your plan for bitrates and pixel dimensions, consider your audience. Will a high percentage of your viewers be on a computer? If so, you should consider a 480p HQ version over a 1080p HD version to deliver to this segment of your audience. The 480p HQ version will look incredible on a monitor, even a huge monitor, but will save you 50% + on storage and data transfer. Take a look at this video from America’s Got Talent, and compare the bitrates (1080p, 720p, 480p, 360p, 240p):

If you’ll be targeting the OTT devices such as Roku, Boxee, Wii and XBox, you’ll need that 1080p version for the HD flat screen. Keep in mind the viewer is still dependent on an Internet connection that will likely fluxuate quite a bit, and a step-down approach leveraging dynamic streaming is recommended.

If you anticipate your audience watching from an iPhone, iPad or iTouch, you certainly want to stay away from Flash. Most content owners and distributors are using MP4/H.264/AAC to deliver to the desktop, mobile device and set top box.

How about HTML5? HTML5 won’t play in quite a few browsers, and does not have a consistent standard for displaying “eye candy” type designs. If you want the MP4 to look and play the same on PC and Mac browsers, use Flash for the player itself. The Flash player will pull and play the MP4, no problem. If you want the MP4 to play on the iOS, use HTML5 as the player. If you want to same webpage to look “pretty much” the same on both the iPhone and Internet Explorer, have your developer write a quick script to determine the device calling the video, then serve the appropriate presentation (HTML5 or Flash).

Using Flash as the player for the Andriod and other non-Apple products will typically work fine. Its the iPad, iPod and iTouch do not support Flash on any level.

You will also want to consider having a suite of available files that can be delivered on-the-fly to the correct device, with a variety of bitrates and dimensions to meet the viewing environment and throughput. An example suite of files might include:

  • desktop/non-iOS mobile HQ version
  • desktop/non-iOS mobile Med version
  • desktop/non-iOS mobile Low version
  • iPad WiFi version
  • iPad 3G version
  • iPhone WiFi version – baseline profile (for older iPhones)
  • iPhone 3G version – baseline profile (for older iPhones)
  • iPhone WiFi version – Main profile (for newer iPhones)
  • iPhone 3G version – Main profile (for newer iPhones)
  • 3gp version (for various mobile phones)

I have seen companies spend a small fortune to accommodate the older hand held devices, only to find out that less than 0.1% of their viewers are accessing content from these devices. Really think about your audience and how/when they will access your portal, and where you want to put your money and time. Have your files on a hard drive if you can, ready to send to a solutions provider once you choose one.

Posted by Chuck Ebbets   @   6 July 2011

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